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Friday, January 3, 2014

There's A New Cat On the Block

As you probably could tell, I haven't been adding any posts for the past several months. It's not for a lack of ideas, but for a lack of time. I got a new day job at a local nursery - Christianson's Nursery - up in Mount Vernon, closer to my Arlington home than to Ballard. I'm actually earning a few bucks doing stuff like this, but for someone else. I haven't been down at Mog Cottage to work in the veg garden, much less write about it. I didn't get the garlic and fava beans planted this fall. It's all looking rather weedy and dead. The last time I was down there, I discovered a beautiful purple cauliflower that had turned to mush in our big fall freeze. Such a shame. I do have kale; such a reliable food crop. I got the cold frame ready for winter lettuce, but I didn't plant any seeds. The garden is not on Roland's radar, so he doesn't think to check on things so much. He does keep the orchids and houseplants watered, upon penalty of death. I'm hoping that I can make it down more often and keep it going. Working from home several days per week with the office laptop is a goal that I'm striving for. That change along with longer daylight will make things easier, I think. I hope.

Geoffrey with the scab on his nose.
It seems at some point, no matter where I'm at, a new mog makes itself present, sooner or later. There is a resident cat at Christianson's; a big fluffy black cat named Bamboo. At some point in November, he got into a hellacious fight with an interloper and ended up at the vet getting stitches. A large pile of mostly black cat fir was found behind one of the greenhouses. Now, John Christianson wasn't going to put up with that, so he set out the trap he uses to trap other live vermin. Several days later, a very large gray and white cat fell for it. He also was rather beat up, with a big, bloody gash on his nose. The staff was rather concerned with his fate and didn't really want to take him to the Humane Society for fear he would get euthanized. But no one at our nursery could take him....except.....for me. I'm such a sucker for a fur face in need.

"Oh, why not," said I, making up excuses to myself. "All the mogs and the dog are down south, so I can fill the empty space in my house with this one." 

I told the staff that I would take him in a couple of days, so he got stashed in the potting shed with a cat box, food and water. Now being a potting shed, there was ample soil about, so the litter box stayed unsurprisingly clean. When you're used to using the ground, then kitty litter doesn't seem so nice compared to lovely, clean potting soil. Even when you have to dig your own hole in just the right spot. It's like choosing Charmin tissue over news print.

Now, anyone who's ever dealt with a stray cat knows that they tend to be strays for a reason. The consensus was that he got dumped. Apparently, the nursery is a favorite dumping ground because the perception is that they will be taken care of with all of the other animals housed there. Who knows why he appeared. He has a notch in his ear like he's been caught, neutered and released. You would think that he was very timid and wild, but this cat turned out very different indeed. 

Having trapped him inside, wondering to myself if this was such a great idea, I listened to constant yowling for 3 days. He spent a majority of his time pacing, trying to figure out how to get out. I didn't want him to wander off in search of his old territory. I planned to keep him inside until he decided that this was a good place for him to be. After an initial night of zero sleep, I turned on the fan and shut my bedroom door to drown him out as best I could, but he could get quite loud at times. I started letting him out into the garage just so he could go out some door. During that period, I came up with the name, Geoffrey (after Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English Literature, of course). He just looks like a Geoffrey to me.

At around a week, I finally relented and opened up the door to the great outdoors. He spent the entire day outside, no where to be seen. Hoping that I didn't do something stupid, I periodically opened the door and called for him. No Geoffrey. Finally around 9 pm that night when I was thinking of climbing under the covers for the night, I opened the front door one last time and there he was, sitting on the door mat. He came in and went straight away to the food trough. After eating, he jumped on the bed and started to purr. The big, ugly scab on his nose had fallen off, revealing the soft, white fuzz of returning fur.

When I first brought him home,  all I had was Kitten Chow, leftover from Marcel's kitten days, and dog food.  I figured he probably hadn't had a good meal in a long time, so the extra calories wouldn't hurt. I would finish up the bag. That didn't take long because he's a pig. He hoses down his food like a big shop vac, a sign of an animal who didn't know where his next meal was coming from and when. In fact, Geoffrey gets very agitated when his kibble dish is empty. No matter where I am in the house, he cries at me and leads me to an empty dish. Not wanting him to get fat, I changed to a crunchy-granola brand of adult cat food. I learned how much an adult male cat can eat after he woke me up at 1 am, hurling what seemed like a gallon of Terracotta colored liquid all over my duvet cover. After another hurl on the carpet the next day, I put him back on Kitten Chow. He's been doing fine on that ever since. His fur is very soft, fine and he gives himself a daily bath.

Geoffrey turned out to be a big blob who loves attention, slobbers like a St. Bernard when getting head scratches and does cute kitty poses when I try to ignore him. My furniture and person is constantly being covered in cat spit and he's a bit of a retard with the claws. He's very polite, asking permission to jump on my lap and on the bed and best of all, he doesn't spray! He has also decided that being indoors is a pretty good deal. He goes out just long enough to fight with the neighbor's cats. The neighbor's cats sit on my arbor over my front porch and while rubber necking, spy down through a window into the living room, looking for the interloper. Peeping Toms. But increasingly, Geoffrey spends 90% of his time inside, asleep on the down throw on the sofa or on my side of the bed.  I think he's decided to stick around and I'm glad he did.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mystery Mushrooms

Mystery mushrooms
What a surprise to come out into the garden one morning and discover that all those arborist chips laid out in the pathways around the planting beds harbored a crop of their own. With all the recent rain, mushrooms are now popping up everywhere. Since arborist chips are made up of decaying plant materials ground up from removing or pruning out trees, this recent discovery actually makes some sense. Sometimes I wish I had the time and expertise to know my mushrooms beyond Chanterelles and Morels. Mushrooms are expensive to buy in the store. Having a potential bonanza in one's yard is a plus. A neighbor actually had several Morel's popping up out of his chips surrounding his blueberry bushes. No such luck here.

The underside
There is a concern that mushrooms can harm happless pets that dine on them. I don't think our mob would bother. Besides being over fed, our cats act psycho pretty much year around, regardless when mushrooms appear. Our dog stays inside other than being on a leash outside. Don't know about these guys, but some mushrooms make good dye materials, giving off unusual, hard to get colors of purples and blues.

But, since I'm no expert and really don't have time to research all of this, I'll just enjoy these gems as a curiosity and remember that many mushroom fruiting bodies represent root rot in trees.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Potatoes in a Can: Some Harvest!

Potatoes dumped out in the shape of the can.
Now that the growing season is starting to wind down, the potatoes were ready to harvest. Excited to see the yield, I dumped the can over onto a tarp. I immediately saw several large potatoes and a lot of roots around the perimeter of the molded soil. What I ended up with was less than exciting though; only 8.5 pounds of the spuds, total. That will last us a couple of months at most.

The idea of this experiment was to grow potatoes in a way that you don't end up damaging them during the digging out process. Plus, I didn't want to use other traditional stacking methods such as old tires which contain all sorts of nasty chemicals or wood which is heavier to move and not as convenient. So, with that said, I've decided to give it a whirl next season with a few adjustments.

The yield doesn't look promising.
First, I'm going to plant a little earlier, add more compost and still fertilize with some bone meal. Second, when I add more soil to keep up with the growth, I'm going to add a few more seed potatoes to the mix, to maximize the number of plants I can squeeze into the can.

I have to admit, it was a slick system for harvest. After picking out all the potatoes, I simply discarded the greens into the compost and then scooped the soil back into the can and put the lid on. Nice and neat. We need all the help we can get in that department. I figure I can get another use out of the potting soil mix which was an investment. And I might get some more potatoes out of it, as many of the roots and perhaps some microscopic seeds remain.

Not as much as I had hoped.
In the mean time, there's an explosion of tomatoes, another nightshade family crop. I'll be freezing some sauce and drying skins for concentrated tomato seasoning. You can read about that technique here.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Weeding With A Flame Thrower

Doing in the weeds while trying not to torch the Lavenders.
Sometimes you just have to get out the big guns. The minute my back is turned, the weeds know and burst forth in abundance. Now, I'm not one to advocate nasty chemicals. One solution would be to use salt. Another, vinegar. I've tried them all. I've mulched and pulled and planted out, but there are times when you just can't win.

Not liking the idea of contributing to Ortho or Bayer, I tried one last trick in the book. Fighting Fireweed with well,  fire. Instead of supporting Bayer, I was about to run off to the garden center and get one of those propane torches designed to target weeds. You simply blast them with 1500 degrees of fire that cooks their little roots. Then Roland proclaimed out of the blue that he had a torch. After he dug through his work van for a while, he brought out what I would describe more as a flame thrower. Not the cute little tip that heats an area the size of a quarter. No, this thing could take out a large shrub!

No, I'm not burning my toes off!
So, I set up the hose in order to grab it and spray out any unnecessary fires that developed and got to work. The whole apparatus consists of a 3 inch torch end connected by a hose to a large tank; the kind that usually gets attached to gas barbeques. You squeeze a handle on the torch like you would a watering wand. Upon my first blast, a napalm size flame shot out and took out the weed, head to toe. It also took out some of the lavender, which is highly flammable due to its essential oils. So, I decided I'd better wet down the areas first where I wanted to torch these invasive opportunists. That worked better. I only took out several lower lavender branches when I got too close.

It worked really well on most everything except of course, creeping buttercup. If hell has a weed, it's creeping buttercup. A week later it was baaaaaack.

I'll have to admit, I had a distinct feeling of power and satisfaction while setting the weeds on fire. "Take that you #%!&#! weeds!"

By the way, the torch also works well starting charcoal to barbeque. A few seconds of blasting flame and the charcoal is lit.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Stubby the Squirrel Gets In On the Act


Corn feeding apparatus.
It's that time of year when the first harvest is just starting to come in and planting for a fall crop is in place. In trying to keep some semblance of control with the whole thing, I've found that there's been an interloper getting in on the act.

We've been putting out dried ears of corn on the squirrel bungee cord hanging on the front porch for our resident squirrel, Stubby (click here for the scoop on that story). We were wondering how one squirrel can go through so much corn. She's the only squirrel we've seen on the cob, and it gets replaced every couple of days with a fresh ear. Well, this spring came the answer, when corn plants started growing all over the planting beds, especially in the parking strip.We also have pumpkins growing everywhere and they look like sugar pumpkins which is fine with me. 

The three sisters, courtesy of Stubby.
The fact that the squash and pumpkin were planted among some peas I have growing wasn't lost on me. Stubby inadvertently completed the three sisters, a traditional way of crop planting by Southeast Native-Americans, although the legumes used were beans, not peas. The corn loves the nitrogen fixed by the peas and the squash shade the roots and keep the peas cool and the moisture in. The corn stalks closest to the peas are the tallest. The peas can grow up the corn. This fall it'll be succotash time. And pumpkin pie time too. Hopefully the corn is a kind that is edible by humans and hopefully the coons won't discover it first. Corn is coon candy. Of course Stubby gets a share. After all, it was her handy work.

I have to keep on top of the squirrel planted pumpkins in the blueberry beds. The leaves of the squash are prickly, difficult to work around and shade out the ripening blueberries. They also shade out the cranberry bushes as well, so I've had to make sure that any errant leaves get pruned off.

New corn coming up in the Camelia sink!
I'm surprised the corn even germinated after being dried and bagged for squirrel use. I wonder how many neighbors are growing (or not growing) corn as well.

This morning we just discovered a new batch of corn sprouting in the Camellia sink!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Using Russian Comfrey for Compost Tea



Purple/blue flowers places Comfrey in the Borage family.
Out of all of my gardening resources, I've found more useful info from Prince Charle's book, Organic Gardening. One of the topics that I found most intriguing was his use of Russian Comfrey Bocking 14 hybrid (Symphytum x uplandicum) as a composting tea. His gardeners at Highgrove not only use it in the ornamental beds and kitchen garden, but also on house plants. So, of course I had to get some.

As it turns out, Bocking 14 Comfrey is a superior variety for composting tea. It is fast growing, very high in nutrients and does not set seed nor does it have a creeping root system that will take over your garden. Once established, its leaves can be cut three to four times a year, with the final harvest in the fall. I have it planted next to my cold frames.

Liquid Comfrey tea is made by steeping the cut, bruised leaves (whack ‘em on a tarp with a hoe or crush the leaves by hand if used in smaller quantities) in a container of water. As the leaves rot down, add more leaves with more water. The result is an extremely stinky, putrid brew (hold your nose, folks) rich in nitrogen and phosphorus and particularly high in potash. The leaves are also full of silica, calcium, iron, magnesium and other essential nutrients to help your fruiting plants thrive. If you want to go and get all detailie about it, here's an article about the many uses and plant nutrients in Comfrey. There are several videos on the subject on YouTube.

Usually ready within 2 weeks after the first cut, apply as a 10% solution, or roughly 1-2 cups per gallon of water. I have it fermenting in a 5 gallon bucket. If you have a lot of it, use a rain barrel with some chicken wire on the bottom to access the liquid without clogging the spigot with slime. Keeping the lid loose, lets air in to help with the process. Some folk may even advocate a small fish tank pump to oxygenate the solution, as research has shown that compost tea is more effective when air is circulated through, although most recipes do not call for aeration. Perhaps that would tamp down the odor some. Other than that, one simply adds more water when adding more Comfrey, which also adds more oxygen anyway.

Another method is to simply place cut up leaves in a bucket with a weight on them. The leaves decompose into a black goo that is diluted 15:1, water to goo. This reminds me of making sauerkraut but instead you could call it comfreykraut, I guess.

Bocking 14 fermenting away in a bucket.
I have to say that it does smell like something died. After applying it, the garden stank for awhile. And the liquid formed a white film on top: perhaps a yeast of some sort? It also attracts flies, so keep away from doors and windows. I also use the leaves as a mulch for my beds. I just harvested my fava beans, so after whacking in their roots to take advantage of the nitrogen, I put a layer of Comfrey leaves on the beds with some compost over that. Let the leaves wilt a little first so they don't per chance, sprout. The leaves will compost in, replenishing the beds with nutrients. I've applied the tea to my tomatoes, annual flower containers and broccoli. This is best as a fertilizer for flowers, fruiting vegetables, berries and fruit trees. Root crops may seed too fast and lettuce may bolt. So far, the annuals have really popped alive.

Just 3 starts has given me enough Comfrey to keep my garden going well. Being a tuberous perennial herb, these plants should last for many years. I found Bocking 14 Comfrey mail order at Horizon Herbs out of Oregon.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Our Little Green Roof Shows Amazing Potential


Finished green roof. Mason bee boxes nest in the gable.
Of course, now that the green roof is finished there hasn't been much of any rain in the forecast. Only the night after it was planted, a gully washer tested its merits. It passed muster with flying colors. Water was pouring off of the other, more conventional roofs here, but scarcely a drop came off the green roof. After all was said and done, only a few drips emerged out of the drain pipe. That means it was doing its job; that is, mitigating storm water run-off. I'm looking forward to seeing how well it does in a prolonged period of rain.

Although installed more and more in commercial developments, green roofs are underutilized on residential structures. The benefits of a green roof are many and include: mitigating and cleaning storm water run-off; reducing the urban heat island effect; providing summer cooling and winter insulation, thus lowering energy costs; providing habitat for beneficial insects and providing noise insulation, just to name a few. Green roofs have been used by different cultures for hundreds of years, but we are just starting to understand how well they function as a viable roofing system. Being that we live in the Norwegian ghetto, having a green roof keeps up with Scandanavian tradition as these roof systems planted with turf on birch bark water-proofing were quite common in that part of the world, once upon a time.

The perception of green roofs being expensive and high maintenance is unfortunate. In reality, most green roofs require little to no maintenance. Just the occasional pulling of unwanted seedlings or top dressing every few years with compost is all that’s usually required. Like any type of garden, it’s about the soil. A low-nutrient, free-draining soil will cause much less of a weed problem than a soil rich in organic matter and nutrient levels. Dead heading is not necessary, and the use of drought tolerant plants such as succulents, eliminates the need for constant irrigation.

This roof is called an ‘extensive’ roof system, meaning that the substrate is less than 6 inches thick. ‘Intensive’ roof systems have much deeper substrates, allowing for larger shrubs, grasses and even trees. Extensive systems are lighter weight (around the weight of a tile roof) and the plant materials used most often consist of succulents which can grow well in a shallow, rocky soil. Last fall, I picked up 9 sedum tile flats for half price at a big box store.


This roof system caused Roland to exacerbate an eye-rolling habit he usually expresses around me. It started with my initial proposal of installing a green roof the minute he announced that he was going to build a garden shed, followed with, "How do I do that?"

Installing the front drainage gravel.
So, after showing him many pictures from my green roof books, the first thing he did was build a bowl on top of the structure. I liked the rafter tail details on the green roof pavilion at the Arboretum, so I had him replicate that. Of course, it couldn't be a simple shed roof; he had to put a dormer on it to make it more appealing. That only complicated the water proofing part. Tar paper went on and sat there for two years whilst he figured out in the back of his mind what to use. Pond liner would have been an inexpensive solution for a straight up small shed roof, but having that gable complicated things a bit. The liner needed to be weldable and regular roofing materials often used in large commercial installations is very expensive, even though we needed so little of it. However, while at the big box, he came across the solution - PVC shower pan liner. It's a heavy gauge, weldable and only somewhat expensive instead of extremely expensive ($85 vs. $400 for the roofing stuff - eye roll). So, he picked up some scraps at a discount and then stashed them until he could get enough of the stuff to do the job. A year went by and still no green roof. Sedums over wintered in their trays. There the roof sat until the Edible Garden Tour. Now I had leverage. Deadlines make the world go around. 

Installing the liner.
Roland came home with the rest of the liner and we proceeded. He laid down new tar paper, then the liner which he glued together with PVC cement. We had an argument about laying down some landscape fabric over the liner. I felt it would help keep the fines from flowing down and protect the liner. Roland saw it as unnecessary and slippery to walk on (more eye rolling between whining). I do know that if you use a separate drainage layer, having a geo-textile is extremely important to keep the fines from clogging it up, but I'll admit, it may have been unnecessary here. I like to fault on the side of caution. Roland built a wooden grid system out of pine to help keep the substrate from shifting down to the bottom. It is designed to last long enough for the plant roots to get established. A metal screen set back 6" from the bottom end of the roof held back the substrate and allowed for a row of pea gravel to go into that area for added drainage. He installed conventional flashing for the edges.

The substrate mix.
Next, came the substrate, or growing medium. On this roof, the drainage material consisting of lava rock, was mixed in with compost and a small amount of perlite. I needed 12 cubic feet of material, so the ratio was 7 cubic feet of lava rock, 4 cubic feet of compost and a cubic foot of perlite. I mixed it all together on a tarp and schlepped it up to Roland in 5 gallon buckets. He now complained about the treacherousness of the round lava rock - like walking on ball bearings - while he walked around the roof distributing the materials (more eye rolling ensued). 


The plant material - sedums with Hens and Chicks.
The next day Roland took it upon himself to pull out the largest chunks of lava rock claiming that he was going to break his neck and couldn't get the sedums into the medium (more eye rolling). He divided the succulents and planted the whole roof while I was at work. I came home to a lovely roof all planted up and a crate full of large lava rock chunks. He had added a bit more compost too. A drain hole leads down a chain to a rain barrel to capture what storm water runs off there is, being slowly released off the roof thanks to the mitigating properties of the roof materials. I'll periodically water it during our dry season while the plants get themselves established.

A lot of folk who came through the tour commented on the green roof. They thought it was a great idea and looked really nice.

I proclaimed to Roland, "I think you should convert the roof on the front porch of the house into a green roof when you re-build the front porch deck."

His response? More eye rolling.